One-Month Challenge

Friday, March 16, 2007

15 days, 200 pages

Gravity's Rainbow is a slow, at times painful, read. Half of the allotted time has elapsed, yet I'm less than a quarter of the way through this tome. I may not make it. How sad: "so Jon, what awesome challenge did you attempt this month?"; "um...I tried to read a book..and failed".

What makes Pynchon such an imposing author, such that my progress appears capped at a mere 20 pages/hour? Is it his expansive vocabulary? His brilliant intellectual arguments? Complex plotlines? None of the above. Rather, I would argue, the entire difficulty in reading Rainbow lies in the meandering, nonlinear nature of the writing. Simple speed-reading techniques fail, because it is almost impossible to pick out, at a glance, the important phrases in any given paragraph: one must read and re-read each individual sentence (which, in Faulknerian style, might actually be a series of fractured sub-clauses spanning a page or more) to catch the overall meaning -- where "meaning" is a derivative of the paragraph's tone, not the facts it conveys or the context in which it resides.

Pynchon is less concerned with long-term plot arcs than with the "feeling" of any given scene. There are, without a doubt, threads which will continue to develop in the remaining 700 pages...but ultimately Rainbow is a series of hallucinogenic vignettes each designed to convey a sense of a given concept or theme. That any particular scene may happen to advance the plot seems an afterthought. Characters are introduced, reappear, and die because the themes they represent need to be present or absent; the fact that individual persons are connected to these themes is mere coincidence.

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